Security was heightened ahead of Thursday night’s opening Women’s World Cup game after a gunman killed two people at a downtown construction site in Auckland, roughly 12 hours ahead of co-host New Zealand’s match against Norway. (More Football News)
Norway’s team hotel was located within a short distance of the shooting, which occurred in the tourist area of the city near the harbor ferry terminal. Norway captain Maren Mjelde said teammates were awakened by a helicopter hovering outside the hotel.
“We felt safe the whole time,” Mjelde said in a statement. “FIFA has a good security system at the hotel, and we have our own security officer in the squad. Everyone seems calm and we are preparing as normal for the game tonight.”
Officials from Eden Park, where the game was scheduled to be played following an opening ceremony for the tournament, encouraged ticket holders to arrive to the stadium early. Most of the roads surrounding the stadium were closed to vehicles hours ahead of the start.
A minute of silence was observed before the start of the game in Auckland.
The shooting happened early Thursday morning at the start of rush hour in New Zealand’s largest city. The gunman was armed with a shotgun, said New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins. He added police arrived within minutes of the first emergency call and ran straight into harm’s way to save the lives of others.
The gunman was found dead in an elevator, said Acting Police Superintendent Sunny Patel.
In addition to the three dead, at least four others were injured, including a police officer who was transported to the hospital in critical condition but is now listed in stable condition, the New Zealand police wrote on Twitter.
“New Zealand Football are shocked by the incident in Auckland CBD this morning,” the team said in a statement. “We can confirm that all of the Football Ferns team and staff are safe.”
Hipkins had initially said his attendance of the opening match was “under review” after the shooting, but he was in the stands and singing the New Zealand national anthem during the opening ceremony.
“Clearly with the FIFA World Cup kicking off this evening, there are a lot of eyes on Auckland,” Hipkins said. “The government has spoken to FIFA organizers this morning and the tournament will proceed as planned. I want to reiterate that there is no wider national security threat. This appears to be the action of one individual.”
FIFA issued a statement saying its president, Gianni Infantino, and Secretary-General Fatma Samoura, were in constant contact with local authorities and participating teams in the vicinity.
Soccer’s world governing body “has been informed that this is an isolated incident that was not related to football operations and the opening match will proceed as planned,” FIFA said in a statement.
Tourism New Zealand canceled a welcome party, which was scheduled to be held Thursday afternoon at a location within the cordoned off area that included many hotels in which participating teams are being housed.
The United States women’s team hotel is also located in the vicinity of the shooting and the team said in a statement it was “saddened by the inexcusable loss of life to gun violence, and our thoughts are with the people of Auckland/Tamaki Makaurau and Aotearoa New Zealand.”
Jennifer Deering, a tourist from Orlando, Florida, was initially shocked to learn of the shooting after a tour guide had previously assured her that Auckland “was very safe here, other than some petty thieves.”
Then she went about her day.
“It’s sad that it’s normal for us (Americans) to see something like this on the news,” she added.
The month-long, 32-team tournament is being co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia, where the final will be staged on Aug. 20. There are strict gun laws in both countries, and fatal shootings are rare.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families in these difficult times. As a peace-loving nation, we stand with New Zealand in solidarity,” Football Australia’s head of marketing and communications Peter Filopoulos said. “The situation seems to be contained now, thanks to NZ authorities. This incident is unrelated to the Women’s World Cup. Stay safe everyone.”